This page is an introduction to the guiding principles behind SLSA’s design decisions.
Trust systems, verify artifacts
Establish trust in a small number of systems—such as change management, build, and packaging systems—and then automatically verify the many artifacts produced by those systems.
Reasoning: Trusted computing bases are unavoidable—there’s no choice but to trust some systems. Hardening and verifying systems is difficult and expensive manual work, and each trusted system expands the attack surface of the supply chain. Verifying that an artifact is produced by a trusted system, though, is easy to automate.
To simultaneously scale and reduce attack surfaces, it is most efficient to trust a limited numbers of systems and then automate verification of the artifacts produced by those systems. The attack surface and work to establish trust does not scale with the number of artifacts produced, as happens when artifacts each use a different trusted system.
Benefits: Allows SLSA to scale to entire ecosystems or organizations with a near-constant amount of central work.
A security engineer analyzes the architecture and implementation of a build system to ensure that it meets the SLSA Build Track requirements. Following the analysis, the public keys used by the build system to sign provenance are “trusted” up to the given SLSA level. Downstream systems verify the provenance signed by the public key to automatically determine that an artifact meets the SLSA level.
Corollary: Minimize the number of trusted systems
A corollary to this principle is to minimize the size of the trusted computing base. Every system we trust adds attack surface and increases the need for manual security analysis. Where possible:
- Concentrate trust in shared infrastructure. For example, instead of each team within an organization maintaining their own build system, use a shared build system. Hardening work can be shared across all teams.
- Remove the need to trust components. For example, use end-to-end signing to avoid the need to trust intermediate distribution systems.
Trust code, not individuals
Securely trace all software back to source code rather than trust individuals who have write access to package registries.
Reasoning: Code is static and analyzable. People, on the other hand, are prone to mistakes, credential compromise, and sometimes malicious action.
Benefits: Removes the possibility for a trusted individual—or an attacker abusing compromised credentials—to tamper with source code after it has been committed.
Prefer attestations over inferences
Require explicit attestations about an artifact’s provenance; do not infer security properties from a system’s configurations.
Reasoning: Theoretically, access control can be configured so that the only path from source to release is through the official channels: the CI/CD system pulls only from the proper source, package registry allows access only to the CI/CD system, and so on. We might infer that we can trust artifacts produced by these systems based on the system’s configuration.
In practice, though, these configurations are almost impossible to get right and keep right. There are often over-provisioning, confused deputy problems, or mistakes. Even if a system is configured properly at one moment, it might not stay that way, and humans almost always end up getting in the access control lists.
Access control is still important, but SLSA goes further to provide defense in depth: it requires proof in the form of attestations that the package was built correctly.
Benefits: The attestation removes intermediate systems from the trust base and ensures that individuals who are accidentally granted access do not have sufficient permission to tamper with the package.